Truth or Consequences in the Church

I was driving into work this morning with a lot on my mind. A lot of my thinking was about this Friday’s deadline. Advisory Response Forms are due. They indicate what pastors and churches might be experiencing a move this year. This is that time of year when clergy and S/PPRC’s advise the Bishop and DS’ if they want a change in pastors or parishes. Everybody’s anxiety is way up and not in good ways. Some folks are freaking out because they don’t want their clergyperson to leave. Others are thinking they can’t leave soon enough and that goes for both laity and clergy. I have even mused over how interesting it would be if we moved all the church members and kept the clergy where they are! Would that be the best Call to Action ever? If Wesley believed itinerancy was “God’s apostolic plan of evangelization,” then wholesale itinerancy with the laity just might help us as a denomination! Ha, but interesting at least. Anyway, appointment-making season in the UMC is a time of high stress. One of my primary tasks is not to get reactive, and, as you can tell, I’m feeling it today.

 I did try to exhibit a non-anxious presence last Sunday. I worshipped in one of the Columbia District UMC’s, met with a Staff-Parish Committee having some issues with a clergyperson, and then led training for all clergy and their Staff-Parish Committees late into the afternoon. As usual there were people who came with semi-hidden agendas. This time of year makes it quite apparent that the good will of Christmas is long gone and United Methodists are feeling the nervous stirring of pastoral change. It would all go so much better if preacher and people would just be honest with each other along the way. Too often I’ve seen both sides skate over shortcomings until they hit a critical mass of general dissatisfaction from which there is no turning back. It is absolutely uncanny that December 1 was the deadline for pastoral evaluations and most all of them were absolutely glowing. Could things have changed that much in two months?

There are no perfect pastors and no perfect churches. If that were so we wouldn’t need Jesus, would we? A District Superintendent’s responsibilities are complicated and complex, a mixture of pastoral care and supervisory oversight. A huge challenge for all of us is how to create Christian community by speaking the truth in love. I find it quite ironic that we care enough to tell a perfect stranger who has miffed us exactly what we think and don’t do the same as Christians. There’s something wrong with that!

Sure, we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, but we have to care enough to confront. My Dad had a great saying. He would say, “Son, Sometimes you have to hit the nail on the head, but be careful not to split the wood!” That’s our challenge isn’t it? We need to tell it like it is, but in a way that is helpful, not hurtful. I am challenged today to get this right for the Kingdom’s sake. I am praying fervently that the right clergy will be sent to the right churches. If I don’t have people tell me honestly what their needs are, whether they’re church members or pastors, then it isn’t going to happen. Consultation has to be honest and helpful!

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